CITADEL FEST IN LONDON

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      A giant Trump baby was soaring above the sky, and a heatwave was roasting the pale Brits like pork sausages on the grill. In the middle of it all, a great congregation had formed in Gunnersbury park where worshippers had gathered to witness a new canon of performers from London and beyond.

      On that fateful Sunday, we were in the crowd at Citadel Festival. We were there to scope out the London scene and skip the headliners (sorry Tame Impala) a decision that would have horrified some of our friends.

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     Shame, the fresh and unabashed princes of British punk music, emerged from backstage for an early bird special at 2:30 pm. Emerging from behind a black curtain, the five South London lads gazed at the sweaty masses assembled before them. Among the spectators were undoubtedly several familiar faces for the hometown band. The guests of honor included bassist Josh Finnerty's mom and pop, and his brace-faced brothers, one of whom was sporting a Shame tee and an arm in a pale blue cast.

       The crowd was young and lively and as Shame launched into their first set, they roared to life with an immediate and almost desperate mosh to “Concrete.” A punchy anthem that threads the paranoia and isolation of being trapped in a relationship into something poetic and catchy.

      The band composed of the charismatic frontman Charlie Steen, guitarists Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green, drummer Charlie Forbes, and Finerty met and started playing in high school. Their origin story has been regurgitated by pretty much all major press outlets. To be fair, it’s one that would make any music journalist salivate: young band practices at a now defunct venue in South London, is mentored by the infamous Fat White Family, who gifted them their equipment and instruments, and then skyrockets to relative fame due to live show prestige. Which brings us to the present, that newfound fame providing them with a mainstage slot at a hometown festival.

      They followed “Concrete” with a song Shame wrote when they were just sixteen: “One Rizla,”  with the chorus “Well I'm not much to look at, And I ain't much to hear, But if you think I love you, You've got the wrong idea,” a rousing kiss off of pure unadulterated angst.

      Halfway into witty “The Lick,” Steen perches himself above the crowd to moan the ending lines. “Bathe me in blood and call it a christening,” the crowd wails with him as he vacates his pulpit, back on stage for punchy “Friction.” Finerty twists his body every which way, dancing and spinning across the stage, an iconoclastic performance for a bassist. Green is more stoic, following Steen’s regimented anger. However, the frontman’s performance is anything but canned. He brings a needed venom to the songs, an urgency that is pure. Perverse “Gold Hole” saw the end of the set as the crowd, which had sung along nonstop, burst into one last mad frenzy.

      As the final mosh of Shame ended, we did not wait to watch people pick shoes and friends off the brittle grass, but instead hurried over to see the next act on our list which had already started.

          Goat Girl was sequestered from the boiling sun in a tented stage, but the black vinyl did little to stop the heat. It was completely packed. A variety of people across a range of generations had gathered to see one of the few all female bands at a five-stage, all-day festival.

        Cutting our way into the center of the crowd we passed families with small children, flower crown wearers, a few faces we recognized from Shame, and what seemed to be British frat bros. Somehow, Goat Girl’s brand of dark and sludgy punk coupled with skilled technique and witty lyrics, managed to draw in all types of festival-goers, and in turn, the band seemed to bring out the best in them.

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       As we reached the heart of the audience a circle pit was opening up. The mosh that succeeded it was (slightly) less violent than the one at Shame, but no less energetic. In the interim of the mosh the crowd would come together, fanning each other and, to the dismay of the bouncers, succeeding in a daring feat of gravity-defying acrobatics to make a three-man totem pole.

      Goat Girl is the neo political, edgy, and empowered band that chose their record label, Brooklyn’s Rough Trade, based on the number of women in the office. They are artsy and young, representing a new generation of artists who are increasingly socially engaged and self aware. They have christened themselves with nicknames; drummer Rosy Bones, singer and guitarist Clottie Cream, guitarist L.E.D, and bassist Naima Jelly. Goat Girl, like Shame, began playing together at an early age, experimenting with their sound before an appreciative crowd at the Brixton venue The Windmill.

      Songs like “Burn the Stake” implore the listener to fight the man. “Build a bonfire, put the tories on the top, put the DUP in the middle and we’ll burn the fucking lot” is a reference to the Conservative parties of England and Northern Ireland. While “Viper Fish,” dishes out a criticism of inaction towards climate change.

      On stage, the anger is present, and Clottie’s droll style of singing remains. However, what comes to the forefront is the stark beauty of the songs. “Creep on the Train” features violinist Georgia Ellery adding a beautiful edge to the songs’ otherwise brutal nature. Goat Girl left the crowd hungry for more, yet they slipped off stage without much adieu, reluctant superheroes to say the least.

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        As we attempted to get some shade, we both fell into somewhat of a fever dream. Awakened every so often by the cries of those watching the World Cup final on a nearby jumbotron. Like zombies we wandered back over to the mainstage to catch our last act. Fat White Family, the infamous South London kings that corrupted the young Shame boys at the ripe age of sixteen. The band is notorious for their heroin use and lewd lyrics.

        The crowd was eager for them to come on, and positively festering with testosterone. Opening with the thrumming energy of “Auto Neutron,” the Fat Whites transformed the crowd into a cult of swaying, stinking bodies. The man next to us, bless his soul, had taken off his shoes. “I want to feel the energy man,” he explained to the skinhead next to him. He was soon covered by bodies in the pit. As the Fat Whites launched into “Whitest Boy on the Beach,” he took off his glasses for safe keeping.

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      All of the Fat Whites’ songs rang out as rockabilly, begging for movement, yet not without an unique sound. “Tinfoil Deathstar” and “Cream of the Young” are typically ethereal, yet when performed live became corporeal. A song that made yet another seamless translation from stereo to live was the dirty “Is it Raining in your Mouth?” Sucking dick had never sounded so good. Suddenly, everyone around us was screaming “five sweaty fingers on my dashboard” and holding up a palm outstretched to the heavens, a moment of group catharsis. For us, the misogynistic lyrics were overpowered by the tune as well as the surprisingly amicable and communal energy of the crowd. For others these lyrics may constitute the Fat White’s appeal as a band.

       Ava was hit in the back of the neck and was suddenly consumed with a fear of death, or at least paralysis, but it faded as the Fat Whites launched into “I Am Mark E Smith,” a lyrically complex ode to the lead singer of the British punk band The Fall, and borderline soulful “Hits Hits Hits.”

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      Lias Saoudi had walked on stage in green cargo shorts and a white wife beater cracking open a Guinness. Another cold one lay waiting for him on stage. For the next hour he proceeded to thrash and jerk so violently that the contents of both cans made his tank top seem like a mix of a Pollock painting and a child’s bib.

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      The Fat Whites have had a revolving door of band members. At Citadel, the Saoudi brothers, lead singer Lias and organist Nathan as well as guitarist Saul Adamczewski who form the nucleus of the band, the songwriting core, found themselves on stage with a drummer, bassist, and another guitarist who I cannot name. However, there was no apparent lack of chemistry. The band were, for lack of a better word, entirely “professional.” The Fat Whites are more than the miscreants they are sold as, their music is as pure as any, complicated and uncompromising. Political testimony with weight and legitimate thought. Their set was an electrifying performance, exciting and complete.

          By the end of the day we were bruised, exhausted, and thirstier than ever. Escaping through the press exit, we said goodbye to Gunnersbury park and our friends from the pit. So long farewell, to the bands that had made it possible. Poet Laureates whose art is born of political turmoil, anger, and necessity. Goat Girl, Shame, and The Fat White Family are clearly passion projects, driven by a manic necessity not just for kicks. God knows we could use a little more of that across the pond.

photos by ZANDER BAMFORD-BROWN   

written by both AVA AHMANN + ZANDER BAMFORD-BROWN   

AVA AHMANN